I'm a criminal lawyer and a crime writer. During the day I go to court. At night I write crime fiction. It's as simple as that.
The story started in 1965 in Mexborough, a small mining town in the north of England, when I was born above a shoe shop, the middle son of the manager and his teenage bride. We didn't stay long though, as my parents moved back to where they started, Wakefield in West Yorkshire.
Northern England in the seventies was a tough place, blighted by bad economics, and Wakefield was an archetypal northern city, surrounded by coal mines and the permanent belch of smoke from high chimneys, but that isn't how I remember it. I lived on an estate on one of the rougher edges of Wakefield, but my memories are of running through fields and woods and around lakes, and regular adventures to the crumbling ruins of an old castle nearby.
It seemed like most of my friends' fathers were miners, tough men with missing fingers and coal dust etched into the lines around their smiles, but it was different in my house. My father was working in the shoe trade and filling the house with books: sci-fi, horror and history books. And if it wasn't words, it was Johnny Cash that filled the house. He was the sound of the weekend, the deep rumble of his voice waking us up every Saturday and Sunday. My father didn't like anyone else. Just Johnny.
As I get older, I turn to Johnny Cash more and more, and back then I followed my father into books.
It was mysteries for me, from Enid Blyton's Famous Five to Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators. I had a Sherlock Holmes phase, followed by Agatha Christie. I had occasional diversions - I collected all the Jennings books and most of the Doctor Who novels - but still it was crime that fascinated me.
We left Wakefield when I was twelve and moved to Bridlington, a dodgem and waltzer town on the Yorkshire coast. I had some great years there, because it was a great town to go drifiting in, with the sharp cut of the North Sea breezes and the long sweep of Bridlington Bay, except that I spent too much time drifting.
I got bored of school, although I'm not really sure why, and left when I was just sixteen with only one exam pass to my name. I found that having no qualifications doesn't take you very far, and so I spent the next seven years drifting between jobs: occasional factory work, building work, things like that. If the eighties were about the haves and have-nots, then I didn't have it. Maybe that was my fault.
I'm not sure if it was a creeping thing, or if I just woke up one morning with a plan, but I knew I had to get out. I left Bridlington, returned to Wakefield, and returned to education. Law sounded good, although it depends on how you get your kicks, and some exam passes under my belt took me to university. College was fun, almost too much fun, but I got through it. I missed reading though, as whenever the page had to turn, it always had to be about law. Leaving college and qualifying as a lawyer let me read again, and then once I had rediscovered that joy, it dawned on me that I ought to write.
It was back in 1994 when the thought first planted itself. I was on holiday in the Canary Islands, and my bright idea sent me to the local shop in pursuit of a pen and some paper.
Then followed four sides of A4 that never saw the light again, but it got me started, and I got a tan as I wrote them. A small typewriter came next, and I banged out a few hundred pages that also never saw the light of day. I realised that writing wasn't just about putting words on a page; it was a craft that would need work and practice. And I tried it, every night writing and correcting, until eventually I wrote something that seemed like a finished piece of work. In my head, agents beckoned, publishing, awards. The future was, at last, bright.
The rejections came in fast though, clattering onto the mat most mornings, but I carried on, writing and correcting, all the time working as a lawyer, my colleagues wondering why I spent most days yawning. A marriage came along, and then three children, and still the rejections streamed in.
Like everything, you don't become a writer by buying a keyboard. It is something you learn to do, in terms of plotting and finding your own writing voice. My initial instinct had been to write books set in America, purely because I tended to read American crime fiction. If I read British crime fiction, I tend to look for the mistakes, one of the downsides of working in the criminal justice system. If I read overseas fiction, I can suspend my disbelief more easily (and get to be transported to another place, another culture, rather than the backstreets of some town just down the road).
My first completed book was called Salem, set in Boston, and with the Salem witches story as the background. I couldn't get published so I self-published it, complete with typos and grammatical errors, all in the days before ebooks. It turned out that a thousand copies are hard to shift. About fifty remain in my loft, and I pulped around five hundred when I thought I could see cracks in my ceiling.
Undeterred, I wrote a second manuscript called Creek Crossing, this time set in Indiana and Chicago. I sat back and waited for the flood of offers, and smiled as I thought of the stories I would tell Jay Leno when he interviewed me.
More rejections followed, although I was able to secure a wonderful agent in Sonia Land at Sheil Land Associates. It seemed that publishers weren't keen on English writers writing American books, which I understand. There are enough great American writers. Why would they want an English imitation?
It was my agent who came up with the idea of rewriting Creek Crossing and setting it in England. It took me a couple of months to swap Chicago for London and Indiana for a small town in Lancashire, and within a couple of months of that, HarperCollins were interested.
I was on holiday when I got the call from my agent. The deal was on. I drank some beer that night.
Fallen Idols was published in July 2007, the first crime book published by Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins, and the first of the series featuring Jack Garrett and Laura McGanity, followed by Lost Souls in 2008.
The rewriting of my American stories carried on, when I rewrote Salem and set it in Lancashire, and Last Rites was published in 2009, still featuring Jack Garrett and Laura McGanity. Dead Silent followed in 2010, which is my personal favourite of the Garrett and McGanity books, just because I liked the story and I thought the pace felt slightly slower.
Cold Kill was the final book in the Garrett and McGanity series, published in 2011, and the biggest success of the series. It was the third biggest selling ebook of 2011, and was at number one throughout July 2011. At one point, there were four of my books in the top 100 at the same time. It was a heady time, but of course life still moves on. I was working as a lawyer still and the books won't write themselves.
I wrote a standalone book next, Beyond Evil, and got itchy feet. It had been a wonderful time at HarperCollins, exhilarating to see my books being read on beaches and trains, but I wanted to see what else there was out there, so I moved to Sphere and wrote the Parker brothers trilogy.
The story of Sam and Joe Parker, one a Manchester detective, the other a Manchester defence lawyer, took me back to where I trained as a lawyer, and where I still sometimes practise now.
I veered away from crime for a moment and wrote the book I always wanted to write, Lost In Nashville. I had always wanted to visit the places Johnny Cash sang about, so I did, but crafted a book from it, a tale of a father and son who travel Johnny Cash's life and songs and try to reconnect along the way. I loved writing, travelling it, and it is my favourite book of all of mine, purely because it has so much emotional resonance for me.
Time moves on, and so do I, itchy feet once more, so I moved to BonnierZaffre to write about a lawyer, Dan Grant, and his investigator, Jayne Brett. I was inspired by the Petrocelli TV series from the series, but rather than build a house in the desert and fight injustice, like the TV lawyer, I gave up full-time lawyering and turned mainly to writing.
I practise as a freelance lawyer now. I like to think of it romantically, as some kind of hired gun who rides into town when I'm needed, a cheroot clenched between my teeth and a fearsome glint in my eye, but in reality it's just an excuse to get out of the house and look vaguely presentable. I could pretend that my life as a writer involves hard work and concentration, surrounded by piles of screwed up paper. The reality is that it involves staring at a screen with not many words written, watching Netflix and scratching myself a lot.
I wasn't with BonnierZaffre for long. I won't go into the reasons why, but I decided to move on and was delighted to take the whole Grant and Brett series to Hera Books and reunite with my ace editor from my HarperCollins days, Keshini Naidoo. The Innocent Ones was published in April 2019 and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
As for the future, who knows? And that's the exciting part.